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Seán Moran: Land the biggest issue for Dublin as playing population rises

Senior men’s side could do with top trackers as they go hunting to reclaim Sam Maguire

Dublin CEO John Costello had the unusual experience - in recent years anyway - of including in his annual report an account of how the county hadn’t won the All-Ireland. His pithy summary of the defeat by Mayo in last August’s semi-final: “that’s sport”.

Or to paraphrase JM Synge, “no team at all can be winning forever and we must be satisfied”.

The comments came after a week in which the past loomed large with the latest retirement from the pioneers of 2011, Kevin McManamon, whose goals were emblematic of the county’s rise through the decade.

He was also a hugely popular figure both for the enthusiasm with which he embraced being a ‘super sub’ even though he found not starting matches a disappointment and the roguish Dub sensibility on view when he knocked out tunes at All-Ireland celebrations.

That showmanship produced at the 2011 homecoming a memorable Damien Dempsey parody, which referred to the Cuala-Kilmacud inside defence of Michael Fitzsimons, Rory O’Carroll and Cian O’Sullivan as ‘the poshest full-back line in the world’.

On the subject of Kilmacud, the Stillorgan club continued their club championship on Sunday with a win in Navan, orchestrated by Paul Mannion, which showcased his continuing loss to Dessie Farrell's Dublin team.

He and Jack McCaffrey have 11 All-Irelands and seven All Stars between them and yet neither look likely to be appearing for the county despite being well short of 30.

Land in Dublin is the most expensive in the country and there is a desperate need for public amenities

Costello framed next year as being one in which Dublin will no longer be ‘the hunted’ but instead ‘take on the mantle of the hunter’. They could however do with their top trackers on that particular pursuit.

There is more to running a county’s GAA affairs than the fortunes of intercounty teams and even Costello has had to write far more reports of All-Ireland disappointment than warm reflections on success but a well run county will get the best out of its players and teams.

The report, which goes to next Monday’s Dublin convention, actually opens with a topic that doesn’t always command headlines but which is nonetheless crucial in the greater scheme of things: availability of recreational space or playing fields.

It’s something Costello has been hammering over the past 15 years or so. Land in Dublin is the most expensive in the country and there is a desperate need for public amenities if the provision of leisure and sporting activities are to keep track with the county’s steadily growing population.

Back at the start of the economic depression in 2009, he was quickly advocating that Nama should be encouraged to sell distressed properties to the GAA, which was also urged to take a proactive role in the acquisition, for much needed facilities so that some good might come from the financial collapse.

This year’s report lists the engagement with all four municipal authorities in the city, in each case looking to insert sports proposals into the draft development plans for Dublin City, Dublin South, Fingal and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, all of which are being finalised for the rest of the decade.

It’s not easy. At Cuala’s strategic plan launch four years ago, then club chair Adrian Dunne spelled out the infrastructure problems facing the GAA and other sports in the area.

“We discussed it last year at a sports forum with the council and there’s enough suitable land left in the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown Council area, which is land-locked between the mountains and the sea, for eight more pitches in the next 100 years. That’s to cover all sports and there are 50 clubs between rugby, soccer and Gaelic games.

“It’s probably the highest playing population of all local authority areas in Dublin with the least amount of land.”

There’s no need to get into the detail of what the Dublin GAA are trying to do but there is an urgency about ideas like the development of the Spawell Sport and Leisure Centre in the south county into a state-of-the-art centre for Gaelic games.

As the Strategic Review Committee indicated in 2002, if Gaelic games are to be optimally developed in Dublin, a greater number of clubs are needed

They are looking to vary the zoning for the land so that it becomes LC (Local Centre), to “provide a mix of local community and commercial facilities for the existing and developing communities of the county”.

That would be a rezoning from OS (Open Space), a more restrictive category that allows recreational amenities and little else. Talk of rezoning is a trigger for all sorts of unhappy civic memories but the fact is that if a voluntary organisation is to develop facilities, being able to exploit some of the property for commercial activity goes a long way to defraying the cost.

There is also the proposal that minimum space be designated as recreational in new residential developments, as one way of addressing the issue and that smaller court-size spaces be provided in built-up areas where full pitches are impractical.

Nor is the preoccupation with land simply an exclusive desire for facilities. As the Strategic Review Committee indicated in 2002, if Gaelic games are to be optimally developed in Dublin, a greater number of clubs are needed. That hasn’t changed but the cost of land and the inadequate local authority infrastructure makes establishing new clubs next to impossible.

Population shift to the east of the country continues apace and Dublin’s growth has led to increasing disproportion within the GAA.

The fact that the county fell short of a seven-in-a-row this year has calmed some of the direst forebodings surrounding the issue but the question of how the association manages the biggest population centre in the country hasn’t gone away no matter who wins the All-Ireland.

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